Tag Archives: Feature

Daily Serving – Article


September 29, 2016 Written by Mailee Hung


There is a certain playful unknowability to Matt Lee’s work. As preoccupied with structure as its inverse, Lee’s pieces suggest an interaction with the intangible that is at once wholly serious and strangely lighthearted. Confronted by subjects like death, absence, and emptiness, a viewer might expect an oeuvre weighted down by existential dread, but in Lee’s work, these subjects become lively participants in conversation with their environs. Though they offer little in the way of consolation about oblivion, Lee’s pieces propose a wry characterization of the unknown that is rather cheeky; death may be coming, but it feels oddly familiar.


Matt Lee. Untitled, from Presence of Absence, 2011; archival inkjet print; 14.2 x 21.3 cm.

In the aptly named series Presence of Absence (2011), emptiness is a figurative entity intruding upon the mundane. Lee created this series in response to his move to Bangalore, as he tried to make sense of his new home. A viewer might imagine the artist being surrounded by signs full of meaning but rendered meaningless by unfamiliarity. In the series, absence is made into an insistent material presence. As this looming void becomes more tangible and undeniable, its character becomes almost approachable. In some works, there is an endearing shyness to the black masses peering over rooftops or peeking around buildings. Lee does not so much demystify oblivion as render it surprisingly friendly.


Matt Lee. Untitled, from Presence of Absence, 2011; archival inkjet print; 14.2 x 21.3 cm. 

Likewise, Lee’s Death Landscapes (2008–) feel oddly familiar despite their vague forms. Given Lee’s background in commercial illustration, all of his images have a distinctly graphic quality that makes elements of his work identifiable despite the fact that they address the fundamentally unknowable. The playfulness of Death Landscapes comes less from a direct characterization of death than from the oblique admixture of the abstract and the recognizable. A collage from Death Landscapes II (2015) is an eerie landscape, with ghostlike tendrils drifting upward from a dark island on the pale page. But from the center of this mass juts a bright rectangle on a pole—part stadium lights, part marquee, part basketball hoop. The result is a disjunction that feels playfully absurd, simultaneously serious and silly. The work’s formal reference to signage flirts with a critique of capitalism before it veers past the political and into the existential. It seems to say, “Sure, commercialism is absurd, but how about death?”


Matt Lee. Untitled, from Death Landscapes II, 2015; cut paper; 8.9 cm x 11.4 cm.

matt_lee-death_landscapes_2-11Matt Lee. Untitled, from Death Landscapes II, 2015; cut paper; 8.9 cm x 11.4 cm.

In his Death Landscapes, Lee’s characterization of the incongruities between the unidentifiable and the concrete produces an effect that is pleasantly somnambulistic in its strangeness. The viewer is asked to accept an unknown element as part of the visual lexicon, inviting it to become familiar while remaining mysterious. In one piece, a rocky black outcropping reminds one of a gate to the underworld, but the billboard-like sign above it complicates any sense of solemnity the form may suggest. This juxtaposition does not make the landscape more comprehensible, but it does make it less frightening. The artist’s overall proposition is a consent to the liminal—an uneasy assumption that the unknown is not necessarily an existential threat but rather simply curious.

matt_lee-death_landscapes_3-16Matt Lee. Untitled, from Death Landscapes III, 2016; cut paper; 13.8 x 18.3 cm.

Lee’s most recent series, Death Landscapes III (2016), is a more somber affair. Using collaged plain paper to suggest landscapes, these works lack the graphic juxtaposition of color photographs and black shapes that had given his previous works their liveliness; they instead convey a more tactile exploration. Their physical qualities of light and shadow reveal the landscape forms within a funereal cast of bone white. But while this series loses the playfulness innate to many of Lee’s other pieces, it gains a material presence. Here, Lee’s expression of absence is most tangibly felt—the void an extension of material form rather than a refutation of it. This is the ultimate ethos of Lee’s work: that strangeness is familiar, that the unknown is recognizable, and that the void is undeniably present.


Matt Lee is an artist, illustrator, design consultant, and educator. His work has been published by Gestalten, Creative Review, and NY Arts, and has been exhibited across North America, Europe, and Asia, including the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Mall Galleries in London, and the Alla Prima International Art Fair in Delhi. Originally from the United Kingdom, Lee currently lives in Bangalore, in southern India. He has a passion for Indian matchboxes, surf music, and preppy clothes. He can be found on Instagram (@mattrdlee) and Twitter (@mattlee).

For Example

My work is featured on ‘For Example‘ – an online Art Magazine showcasing emerging artists. The website is the creation of artist Nick Selleck. Take a look. There is some top work on there.


100% Local

I was invited recently to contribute work to the 4th issue of 100% zine.

A project by Sameer Kulavoor (Bombay Duck Design) and Lokesh Karekar (Locopopo Design), 100% is India’s first visual art zine which showcases contemporary designers, illustrators and visual artists doing cutting edge original work. Each issue has 100% focus on one topic. Artists are invited based on theme and approach. The purpose of this exercise is to bring together work of artists from different backgrounds, sensibilities and aesthetics in each issue under one common theme.

The theme for this issue is ‘Local’:

“As artists our locality does leave an impact on our work – Local culture/ Local music/ local people/ local mannerisms/ local traditions. In this age where the world is turning into one big country and boundaries are becoming blurred, we’re interested in how artists behold the local. What would be ‘that one subject’ around you that fascinates you? something that is local and not global? And how does one behold the idea of local in our times? In this issue we invite 12 artists to create an image inspired by their ideas of ‘local’.”

Representing Bangalore, I contributed three images from a new project titled ‘Sandown‘. This series of ten images re-appropriates iconography from a collection of Indian matchbox labels and situates them on an isolated beach in the south coast of England. In this project the bringing together of contrasting visual elements creates a tension between culture and context. The common thread through the series is the horizon line, which holds together a fragmented narrative where animals and objects, out of place in this setting, are in an awkward and nonsensical dialogue with each other.


Copies of the zine can be bought here.






There is some really fantastic work showcased in this issue. The contributing artists for 100% Local are:

Rishidev RK – Delhi

Matt Lee – Bengaluru

Hitesh Malaviya – Baroda

Yadnyee Shingre – Pune

Maheswari Janarthanan – Chennai

Ayaz Basrai – Mumbai

Benchalit Sagiamsak – Bangkok

Kuanth – Singapore

Driv – Malaysia

Yeji Yun – Seoul

Hsiao Ron Cheng – Taipei

Mamoru Yamamoto – Yokohama

The Indian matchbox: a telling element of our visual culture

A feature on my Indian matchbox project, from today’s issue of The Sunday Guardian:


The Indian matchbox: a telling element of our visual culture


While Big B has a fetish for pens, Quentin Tarantino is known for collecting board games. Similarly, Bengaluru-based illustrator Matt Lee, who came across a matchbox at a roadside chai stall a couple of weeks after he moved to the city from London in 2007, has by now built up a collection boasting of more than 600 matchboxes.”

As an artist and illustrator, collecting matchboxes is part of a wider interest that I have in documenting and categorising illustration and visual culture from around the world. The first matchbox featured an illustration of a killer whale with a caption above that read ‘dolphin’. I found this quite amusing, and kept it. Looking back, I think that my first connection with Indian matchboxes was that aside from being great examples of disposable design, they often seemed quite random, and made me smile and keep on collecting” he says.

On being asked about the reason for building a collection so vast, Lee says that it is the new design that keeps him going. He adds that across such a vast country like India, he can only ever have a fraction of the designs available. “So the series is never complete. Each new design I come across does not offer a resolution; but rather adds to the collection and the continuing story,” says Lee.

Interestingly, the matchboxes also signify personal memories for Lee. The visible ‘scars’ of the battered boxes tell a story, which according to him map the places he has visited, and the experiences he has had. He describes his collection as something which is ‘about design that is visual, tangible, yet personal and also somehow elusive and unquantifiable’.

“I often receive emails from people asking if I’d like to trade them, but it’s not about that for me. The satisfaction is in the process of building a collection that holds sentimental significance rather than material value. When I look at the labels I am reminded of many things; an early morning walk through Periyar National Park with my father and brother, getting lost amongst the narrow lanes behind the Ghats in Varanasi, eating fresh fish in Fort Kochi and many conversations with friends in Bengaluru,” he shares.

Lee, who says that he is attracted towards Rs 1 matchboxes, however makes it clear that he does not go out of his way to find or buy matchboxes; instead he prefers to stumble upon them. Talking about his favourite ones, he says, “From a purely design perspective I really like one that I came across in Jaipur a few years ago. The label shows a lit match on a deep blue background. I like the simplified graphic form, the balanced composition and the selective use of bold flat colour. It reminds me of the Priester poster designed by Lucian Bernhard in 1906.”

Deccan Herald

In today’s Deccan Herald newspaper there is a feature on my Indian matchbox project.


The Curious Case of the Indian Design Student – Kyoorius Magazine


The new issue of Kyoorius Magazine, a bimonthly Indian publication for branding, advertising, design and visual communication, is available now. Issue 12 contains a feature that I have contributed to – in which, a number of expat design educators discuss their views on Indian design students.

“A few issues back, Kyoorius featured a story on Indian design students looking back at their design education, discussing what they saw as its strengths and its drawbacks. This time around, we thought it would be interesting to understand what expat design faculty, currently teaching in India, had to say about their Indian students. How different is the average Indian design student from his/ her foreign counterpart? How do the skillsets learnt at design schools in India prepare them for the challenges that they are likely to face as designers? We spoke to a number of expat design faculty members who are either presently teaching at a design school in India or were previously engaged in such a capacity, to understand where Indian design students stand with respect to their global counterparts.”



The Indian Express

A feature on me in today’s “India by Design” issue of Eye Magazine in The Indian Express.


Platform_ Magazine Feature


Matchboxes, Macho Men & Flirtatious Women

An artist and a visual thinker, Matt shifted base from UK to Bengaluru a couple of years ago, and has traveled the sub-continent ever since. His work explores the concept of society, delving deeper into logic and approved constructs. One of his projects include collecting Indian matchboxes. Having collected over 450 matchboxes as souvenirs, from the roadside chai stalls to highway dhabas, Matt believes that ‘the visible scars of the battered boxes tell a story.’ Another project is Macho Men and Flirtatious Women which documents the man-woman equation represented in South Indian cinema via movie posters.



What sparked your interest in collecting Indian matchboxes? When did you begin collecting these? I began collecting Indian matchboxes when I moved from London to Bangalore in 2007. The first one I came across featured an illustration of a killer whale with a caption that read ‘dolphin’. I found this inaccuracy quite amusing – So, my first connection with these matchboxes was that aside from being great designs, they seemed quite random and they made me smile.


Is there a common theme/subject that binds the designs painted on the matchboxes together? The visuals that adorn this collection include historical and religious iconography, Indian pop culture, appropriated western imagery, mundane objects, and various animals. I don’t think there is a common linear theme, however, I think that the disparate meanings and juxtapositions that are present through this series of designs encapsulate quite perfectly the heterogeneous and hybrid visual culture of modern India.

What attracts you to a particular matchbox before you decide to include it into your collection? Most of the designs that I come across add something new to the collection and so there is no particular aesthetic criteria. For me, the attraction is towards the regular matchboxes that can be found on the street; around roadside chai stalls, cigarette kiosks and highway dhabas. I don’t go out of my way to find matchboxes, but stumbling across one that I don’t have in my collection always brightens up my day!



Tell us a bit about Macho Men and Flirtatious Women? This is an ongoing photographic series that I have been working on over the past couple of years. It features both the local language, hand drawn lithographic film posters, and the larger, glossier offset film posters, which contribute largely to the visual culture and character of the streets of Bangalore. This series explores the roles and relationships of men and women in contemporary Indian cinema through the disjointed, layered and torn fragments that these film posters create.


What prompted you to study the visual relationship shown between men and women in Indian cinema, that too, through poster art? It is an extension of my other projects that explore relationships between representation and reality. My approach to framing has been inspired in part by Jacques Derrida’s book The Truth in Painting, in which he uses Immanuel Kant’s concept of Parergon (ornament) as a basis for deconstructing the ‘supplementary’ and internal/ external role of the image frame.

 Ink, Matt Lee/ Smriti Mehra

Macho Men and Flirtatious Women led Matt to join efforts with artist Smriti Mehra and create a short film titled INK for the City One Minutes foundation, Holland. The piece is a silent, objective documentation of the lithographers working at Balaji Lithographers, Bengaluru and how the posters provide an aspirational quotient to their lives.


What else’s in the pipeline? Smriti and I are planning to create a longer film at the lithographic printers. This time we intend to focus on the machine worker’s stories; we were intrigued by the conversations that center around the slow parts of the afternoon, playing cards while waiting for the print plates to arrive. Another project we have in the pipeline is a film on the printers at Shivakasi where the matchboxes and packaging for fireworks are produced._


160over90 – Collection Wednesdays feature


Branding agency 160over90, have started a new weekly installment on their blog called ‘Collection Wednesdays’. Through this feature they intend to explore why people collect things and show unique collections. For this Wednesday they have interviewed me about my Indian matchbox collection. Read it here.

Thanks also to all the websites and blogs who have featured the collection over the last few weeks, including: Design ObserverCore 77, Notcot, LA Times online, Boing Boing, Architects Journal, Fecal Face and Coudal.